Liber Jonae



Memory arises from non-memory,
Hangs above the void without lingering,
And returns, dissolving into mystery.
And so it is with your city, Nineveh.
Its foundations are seamless with the bedrock,
Its walls and towers formed from country clay.
When the soft mortar of memory crumbles,
Masonry sags, leans overs, collapses.
The flat landscape takes back its rubble
To line the ravines and empty streambeds,
To slide down slopes, to gather in mounds,
To anchor the roots of weeds and desert shrubs.
Memory is tamarisk and juniper,
Written where twig forks and stems divide
In enigmatic strokes, in strokes as swift,
In strokes as slight as lizard sign in dust,
As deliberate and as strong as wasp-flight.
Non-memory, first and last, is witness.
It drinks what is written and leaves husk.
It counts each bud the wild rose has made,
It marks each petal of each bloom shed,
And each is ever first and ever last.
The djinn trumpet as they pass overhead
And that which is created is uncreated,
And memory returns to non-memory.
And so it is with your city, Nineveh.
It is born, it flourishes and it perishes,
Unremembered and unrescurrected.

Paper gift wrap ripped and fell away
To hatch me onto my next stage of life,
A place devoid of both warmth and welcome
Like many that birth throes open up.
Marguerite's visage floated above me,
Storm-darkened clouds that spat hot lightnings.
And I recognized that face, that look.
Armand's wife, it seemed clear, was not pleased
With this gift her thoughtful husband had brought.
My own attitude, however, differed,
In degree of distress if not in kind.
Although my stiff wings will never unfold,
And never spread and never lift my weight,
I believed myself renewed, a new bird,
One of those transmigratory fowl,
A phoenix perhaps, or speckled garuda.

An electric parrot, he said helpfully,
In case this silence and lack of delight
In which she'd quickly rewrapped his gift
Was due to poor eyesight or bird lore,
In case she had identified me wrongly,
Had confused me with, say, a frigate bird
Or seagull, or pelican, or albatross.
My plumage was not quite as well defined
As an expert birder might have liked,
Despite the pawnboker's renovations,
But was, still, unmistakably parrot.

That's exactly, she said through her clenched teeth,
Just exactly what I always wanted.
And how, just how, could you've ever known?
Your gifts, Armand, are always so thoughtful,
Like that toaster I got for my birthday.
And is there a more appropriate present?
Women and toasters, to hazard quick guess,
Must appear to your judgment much alike,
Both performing very narrow functions,
Though not quite as narrow, after all,
As the cheese-slicer I received for Christmas.

It wasn't, said Armand, a Christmas gift.
It was, instead, on our anniversary.

That date was, she said, at any rate,
Last observed many long years ago.

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